1838 Yellow Bodice Construction Details (HSM #4)

Last year, I made a yellow cotton print 1834 dress (there are tons of details about it in this past post). The yardage leftover after that project wasn’t enough for another full dress, but it was enough for another bodice, and I’d been caught up in 1830s fever!

There are so many ridiculous sleeves to explore! Accordingly, I decided to make a second 1830s bodice with different sleeves. I finished the new 1838 bodice earlier this year and over the summer I was able to wear it with my recently finished chemisette.

The 1834 dress was made in two parts, a skirt and separate bodice, so that it was easy to make a second bodice and save yardage on the skirt.

Construction Overview

First, the construction details of the new 1838 bodice, starting with the HSM facts, because this bodice fits Challenge #4:

The Costumer’s New LookGive an old costume a new look, either by creating a new accessory or piece which expands or changes the aesthetic and use of an outfit, re-fashioning something into a costume item, or re-making an old costume.

Fabric/Materials:Approximately 2.5 yds reproduction print cotton and 1 yd of muslin.

Pattern: The pattern for this bodice is based on patterns contained in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1 and Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Women’s Clothes, as well as sleeve information fromThe Workwoman’s Guide.

Year: 1838.

Notions: 2 ½ yds narrow cotton yarn for cording, about 10 hooks and loops, and thread..

How historically accurate is it?: 90%. The pattern, construction methods, and fabric are all quite good. Inside seams are sewn by machine.

Hours to complete: 22.

First worn: August 2021.

Total cost: Approximately $15.

Construction Details

The back of this bodice is made just like the 1834 bodice, with piping in the side back seams. The armsceyes and neck are also finished with piping.

The main difference in the bodice (aside from the sleeves, which we’ll get to shortly) is the front, which has a deep V shape.

I looked at extant garments to see how this style was constructed. There are a collection of pertinent ones on my Pinterest board for this sewing project. The main inspiration for my observations was this garment, featured on All The Pretty Dresses blog (and included on my Pinterest board).

What I saw is that instead of being flatlined (as with the yellow and muslin layers of the back pieces), the lining was stitched separately from the gathered front panels. The muslin provides a fitted shape for the yellow exterior layer. There is a photo of the inside of the bodice of the extant bodice that shows this very clearly.

For my dress, the piping that finishes the back neck continues around the muslin to finish the edge. The yellow exterior pieces of the V edges (which are cut on the straight of grain) are simply pressed under twice.

Here is a closeup of the armhole of my bodice from the inside. The muslin front edge and exterior yellow layer are on the right of the photo. You can also see the ties that hold the sleeve puffs in place.

In addition to those details, the photo below also shows the hooks that are used to attach this bodice to the skirt.

Ok, but the sleeves are the star of the show here, so let’s discuss them! Being from 1838, they still use a lot of fabric (a yard each), but the fullness is pleated to force the puff down to the elbow level.

Here’s a closeup of the completed sleeve. The pleats are held in place by two bands of double piping that are hand sewn in place.
To make the double piping I machine sewed the cord into one side of my bias and hand sewed it into the other, then pressed the bias in half and attached it through all the layers. In my sample below I didn’t bother to put the machine stitching on the under side, but on the dress the machine stitching is not visible.

Before the piping was added, the pleats were machine basted in place. My machine basting wasn’t exactly where the piping ended up, so I removed the basting anywhere it showed.

Backing up some more in the process, below is one of the sleeves with the pleats pinned in place. I did this while the sleeves were flat, before I sewed up the inseams.

There’s no pattern for the pleats… it was just a matter of knowing what dimensions I wanted to end up with for my top edge and bicep and then eyeballing it. The pleats vary in depth on the inside, even though the outside is pretty even at ¼”. Part of this is due to the fact that the pleats have to angle in order to create an armsceye that keeps a curve up in the middle. Figuring it out is a great mind puzzle!

Below is the sleve before being pleated, etc. Between being over a yard high and also being cut on the bias you can see why each sleeve takes a yard of fabric!

After pleating and sewing the inseam the sleeves had this shape (below is my mockup sleeve). I really wanted an exaggerated elbow puff, so this isn’t quite the shape I wanted to end up with. To get the shape I wanted, I took horizontal tucks about halfway down the sleeve. This keeps the forearm relatively unwrinkled while creating lots of elbow puff. The tucks are lost in the pattern of the finished dress.

Could I have altered my pattern to not have to take tucks? Sure! I’d probably change the curve of the sleeve inseam to do that. But… I’d already cut my pieces. And adapting sleeve shapes to adjust for changes in styles seemed very appropriate and in the spirit of what 1830s ladies might have done.

So for a bit more sleeve information… These sleeves have an opening at the cuff to allow for the tight fit of the forearm. The openings are finished with self fabric facings and then the hem is turned up.

Here’s what that looks like on the inside.

And that’s it for construction!

Here’s a bonus photo of the dress with a quince tree. I’ve heard of quinces but never encountered them before.

They sort of look like pears!

I’m very pleased with this cross front bodice and the sleeves that go with them. I appreciate their minute detail even though they were definitely the most time consuming part of this bodice!

8 thoughts on “1838 Yellow Bodice Construction Details (HSM #4)

  1. As always, great detailed photos and understandable explanations. I love seeing your posts. In fact, when I see there is a post from you in the mailbox I get excited to open it, like a kid opening Christmas presents. Keep them coming! While I haven’t caught the 1830’s sleeve fever yet I always learn from your posts. (I’m more of a late Victorian, Edwardian myself.) I feel a kinship with you, I love the feeling of “Clothing Sisters” all over the world.

    1. Dear Helen,

      Thanks so very much for your encouragement! Despite enjoying blogging it can be hard to find the time when life gets busy, so it’s extra wonderful to know that I’m sharing with others who share my passion for historical clothes! It is neat that we can find each other all over the world!

  2. Dear Quinn,
    Agree with Helen’s comment above: every time I see a post, can’t wait to read it!

    Oh, what a well-thought-out bodice. Each detail makes sense, from the scraps of fabric used to make cuff facings, to the elbow ticks (so common in 1890s sleeves) to the construction of the double piping. Hooray for prudent planning and logic!

    A single question: on the cross-front fashion fabric mounted to the lining: did the fashion fabric on the left side (that goes under the right side at the vee) go all the way to the waist or was it trimmed to make a false vee? Can see arguments for both.

    About quinces: they have pretty blossoms in springtime; on the old bushes where we lived when I was little they were salmon-colored, and the quinces were small and rounded. So like apples they come in varieties. I always wanted to make jam of them but we never did…

    What a happy summer — and fall — outfit. This bodice is as wonderful as the one you made first!

    Very best,

    Natalie in KY

    1. Dear Natalie,

      Thank you so much for your encouragement and constant readership. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments and interest in my projects! Thanks for pointing out and celebrating the small details! 🙂 I love having kindred spirits to appreciate them with me!

      That is a great question that I didn’t address! I made my bodice so that the fabric that crosses under goes all the way to the waistband to provide stability and tension to keep the folds in place. I think I also forgot to mention, but the folds are tacked to the muslin lining to keep them permanently nice looking, as well. 😉 Do I have evidence that this is the 1830s way to do this? None except my observations of extant cross front bodices. No pictures of that from the inside where you can see the two layers, but some of the ones I looked at (and on my Pinterest board) show a shadow of space between the two layers, which implies to me that the under layer must extend at least a few inches under the over layer, if not all the way to the waistband.

      Your childhood quinces sound charming! I understand quinces aren’t good for general eating and that jam is one of the best things to do with them. Even though you didn’t make it then, have you eaten quince jam at some other time?

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